Monday, August 25, 2008

Michigan State Preview - Part II - The Offense

The offense begins and ends with a name Cal fans will be all too familiar with by the end of the day on August 30: Javon Ringer. A 5-9, 202-lb senior, he was second-team all Big 10 in a freakish group of Big 10 RBs last season (Wells, Mendenhall, Hart, Hill), and is projected as a 3rd team All American this season. While many adjectives have been used to describe him, 5.9 yards per carry says it best. The guy is shifty and strong at the LOS, has great wiggle, and if he gets daylight, he's gone. Here's a preview, complete with shammy editing and the cheezy Big 10 TV network's intro (apparently they are still perfecting the betamax-to-youtube converter in Michigan). Skip ahead to the 1:12 mark:

Offensive Style
While the Spartans under Dantonio aspire to the straight-ahead, balanced-style of offense employed by Jim "The Sweatervest" Tressel at Ohio State, they could not escape their Michigan roots last season, tending more toward the run (580 rushes versus 393 passing attempts-59%). And that was with a more veteran group of wide receivers, including two who were all-Big 10. With a greener set of receivers, a big, fat offensive line, a potential All American at tailback, an offensive line that is big, and an offensive line that is fat, I would expect the run-first trend to continue versus the Bears on Saturday. Plus, their linemen are big and fat.

(By the way, wouldn't it be great if Saturday, Tedford ran on the field with a Tressel sweatervest and necktie carrying that diminutive 3x5 play card Tressel always has? Tressel is Dantonio's mentor and this might freak Dantonio out enough to give us an edge, at least for the first couple series.)

The Spartans' mindset on offense is, well, very Spartan. They seek to engage the opponent in a war of attrition, beat them up at the line of scrimmage, keep the opponent's offense off the field, and rely on their defense to close the deal. They are tenacious and physical at the point of attack, and balanced, if a bit conservative, in their play calling, although they will mix up the passing game with dump offs and screens to the tailback. They also have a reputation for playing dirty and taking cheap shots. In terms of an analogous Pac 10 team, their offense (and the cheap shots) remind me most of Oregon State. You stay classy, Beavers.

If Ringer is the centerpiece of the Spartan offense, senior quarterback Hoyer is probably the leader. He is generally regarded as a solid, but unspectacular, game-manager type player. In other words, a typical Big 10 QB. Last year he put up decent numbers: 59% completion, 2725 yards, 20 TDs, 11 INTs, putting him somewhere in the middle of the Big 10 quarterbacks. Normally these would be good numbers for the Big 10, but they recently discovered this thing called a running quarterback in that conference, so there is some minor chaos amidst midwest statisticians currently. Hoyer's strengths are his experience as a starter, knowledge of the offense, and ability to distribute the ball well, completing 79 and 20 passes to his 2 WRs, 35 to Ringer, and 32 to his tight end last season. He also threw only 1 INT versus 7 TDs in the 4th quarter, which shows good poise under pressure.

If there is a "knock" against him, aside from probably not being a guy who can take over a game, it is that the Spartans have not fared well in big games under his leadership. Most recently, in the Champs Sports bowl last season against #10 Boston College -- Michigan State's first bowl game in 4 years -- Hoyer's stat line was undesirable: 14-36 (38%), 131 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 1 fumble, 65.77 rating. The Spartans lost 24-21. His passer ratings vs the other "big" opponents last year, #5 Ohio State and #18 Michigan, both losses, were similarly low: 85.77 and 96.65, respectively. Even when he put up his best numbers last season against #24 Wisconsin on the road, the Spartans still lost. I think Hoyer will not lose the game for Michigan State, but I also do not think he can win it for them.

This position is the biggest question mark in their offense, primarily due to lack of experience. The feature receiver is Mark Dell, a 6-2, 188-lb sophomore, who had 20 catches last season. He is reputed to have all the tools: blazing speed, athleticism, hands, and route running. The question is how he will do as the #1 option now that Devin Thomas and Kellen Davis are gone.

After Dell is a list of highly touted but unproven underclassmen backups, a senior wideout who has never had great production (Deon Curry), and a blocking tight end with below-average hands (Charlie Gantt). I would expect a few of the underclassmen to make some plays, but not many. Recall last year, Tennessee was breaking in a whole new wide receiver corps, and though they were fast and talented, none of them were able to break loose against the Cal defense.

Offensive Line
The offensive line is a typical Big 10 hog farm, weighing in at a svelte 330, 318, 308, 308 and 297. Not surprisingly, they run block well but suck as pass blocking. Whereas the offense averaged a very good 198 yards rushing last year (interestingly only 165/game on the road vs. 225/game at home), they gave up 30 sacks last season, and 28 the year before. For perspective, Cal gave up 11 last season (top 10 nationally), even when the whole stadium knew Longshore was a sitting duck.

Up next: The Michigan State Defense.


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